This winter we took a long weekend road trip to experience Michigan Upper Peninsula skiing. Michigan, in general, is not really thought of as a skiing destination. The upper peninsula of Michigan is one of more rural out there places in the United States.
There are a dozen or so ski resorts hanging out north of the Mackinac Bridge including the infamous Mount Bohemia where we will be making a stop. Ski resorts on the Upper Peninsula range from small local hills to traditional ski resorts to the more extreme. We will be checking out some of each.
Skiing The Michigan U.P.
We hit 6 mountains in 4 days. Everyone going had purchased MSIA White Gold Cards for lift tickets so we had a ticket to every resort we could possibly have gone to up there.
We are from the Detroit area in South East Michigan. The Upper Peninsula represents a pretty far off place. There are no highways on the Upper Peninsula so once you cross the Mackinac Bridge it’s all 2 lane back roads.
4 day Upper Peninsula itinerary
- Saturday – Drive 7 hours to Pine Mountain – Ski Pine Mountain for a few hours
- Saturday night – Iron Mountain near Pine Mountain
- Sunday – Drive 2 hours to Big Snow Resorts – Ski half-day at Indianhead and a half-day at Blackjack
- Sunday night – Drive 2 hours to Houghton and stay in Houghton
- Monday – Ski Mt Bohemia, Ski Mont Ripley in the evening
- Monday night – stay in Houghton
- Tuesday – Drive 2 hours to Marquette Mountain – Ski a couple of hours then drive 7 hours home.
The drive up to the Upper Peninsula
We are from the Detroit area. The first day driving was about 7 hours to get to Pine Mountain. We left at 6am. We were skiing by 2pm. There is an hour time difference that helps a bit. Some of the UP is in Central Time Zone.
Pine Mountain – Michigan U.P. Ski Resort #1
Pine Mountain is home to one of three ski jumping sites in Michigan. The ski jump stands much taller than the rest of the mountain and is the most prominent thing you’ll see while your there.
Pine Mountain is a fairly small mountain with a fairly short vertical and only a few runs. The published vertical is 500ft. Using Ski Tracks App I measured a base elevation of 1233ft and summit elevation of 1464 feet which puts the measured vertical at 231 feet. The ski run length felt a lot closer to Pine Knob (300ft vertical) than Boyne Mountain (500ft vertical)
They do have a variety of off-piste ungroomed terrain that looked like it could have been really fun on a fresh snow day. As it was the ungroomed snow conditions were a cross between cement and boiler plate. We didn’t venture off the ungroomed many times because of this.
We arrived around 2pm. Spruce Chair was closed almost as soon as we started skiing. Hematite was closed an hour or so into skiing. We skied on a Saturday which is typically the busiest day at most ski resorts.
As a nice surprise, they sent a guy out to give away hot cookies in the lift line at one point. It was starting to get a bit cold so these were a giant welcome.
We did not see anyone using the ski jump while we were there. This is really the main attraction to Pine Mountain. We really wish we could have seen it.
Pine Mountain is suffering a bit from short vertical drop and small runs. It has a very similar feel to skiing Shanty Creek. We will probably not include this mountain again in a UP trip given the driving distance involved unless there was an event that promised ski jumping.
We stayed in Iron Mountain for the night, only a few miles away. We checked out Carlos Cantina for Mexican which was excellent.
Pine Mountain – Highlights
- Ski Jumping
- Lift line cookies
- Some glade skiing
- Close to Iron Mountain for food and drinking
- Short vertical drop (~300ft)
- Only a few runs
- Lifts close early limiting terrain even further.
Big Snow Resort – Michigan U.P. Ski Resort #2
Big Snow Resort consists of 2 mountains. Indianhead and Blackjack. The 2 mountains are visible from each other and are only a short shuttle bus ride apart. 1 lift ticket can be used at both places. The shuttle leaves on the hour or half-hour depending on which mountain your at. The resorts are similar but have enough differences in flavor to be worth skiing both.
One thing to note. They run the chair lifts here very fast for non-detachable chairs. I can’t remember the last time that I got such a launch feeling when the chair scooped us getting on. Bring your A-Game here for loading on to the chairs. It helps to make the lift ride shorter. We all got knocked in the head and various other places by the chairs while loading here.
We arrived at Indianhead on a Sunday morning not too long after opening. We mostly had the resort to ourselves that day. Indianhead has a pretty decent vertical drop. Longer than is typical in the lower up. They do an excellent job of grooming. After the short runs the day before we really appreciated some longer run that we could really open up on.
There was a nice variety of ungroomed mogul runs around. We saw several places that looked promising for glade skiing had the snow conditions allowed it.
After a few hours, we hopped on the shuttle to go over to Indianhead. We ate lunch in the Cafeteria. They have one of the better cafeteria burgers I’ve had at a ski resort and one of my friends said the soup was really solid also.
The runs at Blackjack tend to be a bit steeper than Indianhead. You can really get your speed on here. The crowds were very light, especially considering it was a weekend. We really enjoyed a lot of go-fast runs here.
Big Snow wrapup
We enjoyed our time at Indianhead and Blackjack. They are a full 9 hours of driving with no snow delays from Detroit. They are worth it to ski if you’re going up there for something else. If you happen to live on the other side of the border in Wisconsin or Minnesota they would be an excellent place to go. I’m not sure if we will include these again on future trips or not.
Big Snow Resort – Highlights
- Taller vertical drop (638 ft)
- Variety of runs
- Steep fast groomed runs
- Chair lift loading speed
- Closest off resort place to stay Ironwood 14 miles away
- Distance (Wisconsin border)
Mount Bohemia – Michigan U.P. Ski Resort #3
Our next stop was Mount Bohemia. Mount Bohemia is the main motivation for going to the UP to ski. We originally planned to spend 2 days at Bohemia but because of some scheduling conflicts our trip got shortened one day and we only spent 1 day there.
This was my third time to Bohemia. The snow conditions were as good as they get for a non-powder day. There was no ice anywhere and the snow was still fairly soft where it had been clumped up or hadn’t been skied yet. No boilerplate or cement.
Our last trip to Mount Bohemia was full-on shiny glaring ice on all the nonglade runs for half a day and then a dumping of snow happened to give us powder runs for the second half of the day. This trip was halfway in the middle somewhere. You can read my full review of Mount Bohemia here.
We skied all the areas. My favorite run continues to be middle earth for tree skiing and the runs off the backside chair for non-glad skiing.
The Haunted Valley is a lot of fun. The initial drop is very steep. My 2 friends along for the trip had a moment at the top trying to decide how to approach it. Eventually, they went tips down and got it done. Following Hidden Valley is a run I believe was called Parrot, to bring you back to the front side, which is a pretty laid back glade by Bohemia standards to finish the run.
Every trip to Mount Bohemia always has some character to it. On this trip we spent some time at lunch at the North Pole Bar with Rick the bartender. I’m normally not a drinker while skiing but a Keeweena Widowmaker just seemed appropriate on this day. One member of our group took a lift ride with the “Kitchen Hippy” if you have watched Mount Bohemia TV.
We did not stay at the mountain again this time. I think for the next trip we have enough of a group willing to do multi-days at Bohemia to make it happen.
Mount Bohemia – Highlights
- Taller vertical drop (900 ft)
- Very challenging glade runs even by out west standards
- Very unique atmosphere (yurts, north pole bar, etc…)
- Variable conditions. It can be really really good or really really bad
- Distance (50 minutes from Houghton)
- No groomed runs to take it easy at the end of the day
Mont Ripley – Michigan U.P. Ski Resort #4
We left Mount Bohemia and went directly to Mont Ripley in Houghton. We got there and started skiing just in time for sunset. This is my second visit to Mont Ripley now. I continue to think that Mont Ripley is the most under-rated never spoken about ski mountain in Michigan.
I previously wrote about Mont Ripley in my best ski resorts of Michigan post here.
Mont Ripley has runs as steep as Mount Bohemia. It has some pretty technically difficult glades. It has the closest thing to an out west style bowl as anywhere without actually going out west.
We planned to ski Mont Ripley on Tuesday morning before heading home. We checked the hours and they do not open until 3pm on weekdays which didn’t fit our timing. We hit it in the evening after Mount Bohemia to still get it in.
Mont Ripley – Highlights
- Very steep and challenging runs
- Nicely maintained cruiser runs
- Out west style bowl skiing
- Doesn’t open until 3pm on weekdays
- Only a few lifts
- Beginner run only serviced by a T-Bar
Marquette Mountain – Michigan U.P. Ski Resort #5
This was my second trip to Marquette Mountain. I will admit that I was not that impressed on my first trip there. I questioned whether we should go back again. The place really grew on me a lot this time.
The grooming was really excellent with no ice anywhere. The conditions were really carvy. I really enjoyed digging a lot of high-speed trenches on the groomers.
We spent a little time in the glad runs. They would have been a lot of fun had there been fresh snow.
We discovered a nice small cliff area just above where the racing runs are at. There is a nice picnic area and fire pit set up in the woods about it. One of the members of our group decided to give one of the small drops a go.
One irritation. The chair lift closest to the parking area wasn’t running. There was a substantial walk to the other side of the base lodge to get to the chair that was running.
Marquette Mountain – Highlights
- Very good grooming
- High-speed cruiser runs
- Glades and cliffs and other challenges scattered about
- Chair lifts run very slow especially the double
- Average length runs, not super long
- Walk to the chairlift from the parking lot
The Drive Home from the U.P.
After our time at Marquette we headed home. It is a 7 hour trip back after skiing that day. We are already talking about hitting up Bohemia again for more days next time.
In total, we did about 22 hours (1350 miles) driving during the 4 days of this trip. This is more than the drive time to go to Vermont. My home to Killington Vt. is 21 hours (1300miles) for the round trip. We really look for something unique, different or challenging from these trips to make them worth the drive.
Summary – Michigan Upper Peninsular Ski Resorts
- We really feel that the combination of Mount Bohemia and Mont Ripley is worth the trip up there.
- Big Snow Resorts would be excellent places if you lived in the UP or Wisconsin/Minnesota/Illinois to go. Since their main attraction is longer groomed runs, Vermont would be a more worthwhile option or this type of skiing.
- Pine Mountain is really only worth going to if there is ski jumping to watch. Otherwise, it is a small hill for the locals and not a destination ski resort.
- Marquette Mountain is a fun morning or afternoon if you can hit it on the way or way back.
For our next trip we plan to drive all the way to Houghton on Day 1 and try to get there early enough to get a few hours of Mont Ripley in. Ski Mt Bohemia for Day 2, 3 and maybe 4. Ski Marquette mountain for a bit on the way home.
You might also like:
- The Best Skis For Michigan Skiing Helpful Guide
- Mount Bohemia Ski Resort. The Best Michigan Skiing
- The 10 Best Ski Resorts in Michigan
- Caberfae Peaks Ski Resort – A great value and good terrain
- The Michigan White Gold Card – Michigan’s Best Skiing Value 32 Days Skiing For $299
About the author
My name is Doug Ryan. I am an adventure sports fan and an avid skier, sailor, mountain biker who also enjoys paddle boarding, kayaking, wakeboarding, waterskiing, and travel. I take any chance I can get to get out in the snow or water. I actively run an adventure sports meetup where I get asked many questions. I decided to start Endless Rush Outdoors as a way to share my knowledge and enthusiasm for adventure sports their gear.